Panamanian Cardinal Resigns After Disappearance Incident — By: Church Militant

DAVID, Panamá ( – Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, a prominent figure in the Panamanian Catholic Church, was found safe on Feb. 1 after being reported missing two days earlier. 

Cdl. José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán

The incident, which sparked widespread concern and a police investigation, concluded with the cardinal’s safe return and a public apology for what he described as a thoughtless prank.

The Vatican announced on Feb. 15 that Pope Francis accepted the cardinal’s resignation. 

Lacunza, the bishop of the diocese of David, vanished on Jan. 30, prompting an immediate search. 

Two days later, the Panamanian Episcopal Conference announced his safe discovery in Boquete, near his diocese, stating that he appeared “disoriented” but was otherwise healthy. 

The circumstances of his disappearance remained unclear until Lacunza addressed the matter himself during Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in David on Feb. 4.

In his apology, Lacunza expressed regret for the distress his actions caused, describing his disappearance as a foolish act not befitting his age. 

It was a stupid prank.

“It was a stupid prank,” the cardinal admitted, expressing gratitude for the prayers and concern of his community.

Lacunza’s disappearance was cause for alarm given the historical context of threats against clergy in Central America. However, Panama, known for its relatively low levels of violent crime, has seldom witnessed such incidents involving church officials.

A video posted on social media showed police speaking with the cardinal, confirming his well-being. 

The diocese later announced that Lacunza would undergo a medical examination to ascertain his health status.

Throughout his ordeal, Lacunza received support from church leaders in Panama and his religious order in Rome, reflecting his esteemed position within the Catholic community. 

Fr. Luis Enrique Saldaña Guerra

The cardinal, who has served his diocese since 1999, will celebrate his 80th birthday on Feb. 24. 

The Vatican also announced the appointment of Franciscan Fr. Luis Enrique Saldaña Guerra as the new bishop of David. 

Lacunza is a native of Pamplona, Spain. He was ordained a priest in 1969 and later appointed a bishop by Pope John Paul II. He was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015. 

Lacunza is known for his advocacy on behalf of indigenous peoples and migrants, as well as efforts to foster dialogue within the Church and society.

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